Another Pepper Post

Sunday, February 18, 2007

So, I understand why salt has become a basic table side staple. Salt is a basic dietary need, it chemically enhances the flavors of foods by coaxing out juices and proteins. It makes sense. But why pepper?

I mean I understand the taste side of things, pepper has that unique flavor and mouth feel that leaves a sort of presence in your mouth like cinnamon creating heat, or mint creating a chill. But what I mean is WHY pepper? Is it simply because it pairs so well with everything? If that were the case then it's because we love it's exotic neutrality, which may be reason enough. Pepper seems to be undergoing a new wave of popularity and we're seeing it in cupcakes, ice cream, and as the main focusing spice in a variety of dishes; it's more popular than ever yet rarely given a second thought.

But how come it wasn't rosemary or paprika? I mean, it makes sense that these flavors are simply too strong to pair with any 'ol dish like salt and pepper can, but is there a specific history as to how pepper became such a staple in cooking world wide?

Pepper has been used since prehistoric times in India as evidence suggests, and is actually a dried fruit. Throughout time apparently, it has only grown in popularity and spread like wildfire from India. It was found lodged in the nostrils of Ramesses II as part of his mummification process. Five peppercorns was payment enough to have some assassinated in the Medieval period. It was thought to help fight off malicious plagues and maladies. It was one of the most expensive spices in recorded trade history of the ancient world, and a favorite in the foods of only the Roman elite. Today it's one of the cheapest spices on the market and makes up about 20% of the overall world spice trade.

None of this really answers my question really. I guess it's simply a chemical thing having to do with taste and the brain. The phrase "exotic neutrality" really does seem to do the spice justice. Pepper has a fruity, floral, spiciness that is so well balanced it perfectly compliments each and every dish. Still, it's something to think about.

For more pepper information:
Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner


  1. Very thought provoking and interesting.

  2. It was seeking the best tellicherry peppercorns that led me to Penzeys. There is something very special about pepper. If I don't have it to grind into a recipe, it tastes to flat to me. Interesting how certain foods can shape history. Cod is one of those foods too.

  3. Very interesting. I love pepper. I also recently found that chillies came to India from South America. Is this common knowledge?


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